Daniel Quinn, Ph.D. spent nearly 20 years as a teacher before shifting his attention to public policy. He draws on that experience now as he works on complex issues across sectors with his clients. Previously, he served as PPA’s Director for Education Policy and recently was elevated to PPA’s chief strategy officer.
You were PPA’s director for education policy the past few years. How does your work change as chief strategy officer?
I am taking on a new role while still maintaining my current client relationships. Over the last two to three years, that has been education policy-plus. My role previously included inclusive economic development policy, working with clients across both talent and economic development areas.
As chief strategy officer, I will be helping to implement PPA’s new strategic plan by engaging with our partners in Michigan and across the country, developing and extending our relationships.
What is your chief strategy?
The education policy area (including early childhood education and higher education) has been a really strong area for PPA. One of my responsibilities will be to take what’s going well in our education policy area and extend that across all of our policy areas.
Our strategy is to build upon PPA’s long history of past successes, identify new opportunities for the company to grow into, aspire to do more and be more for our clients, and to have a greater impact.
PPA’s education portfolio has expanded dramatically under your leadership. How has that happened?
A big part of our success has been building trust with clients. One of the things I enjoy most in my work is developing close relationships with organization leaders. Our clients trust me to do good work and help them make better decisions. I think PPA has become a trusted partner in Michigan, an organization that provides robust research and evaluation. More than anything, we have built deep relationships with organizations trying to do important work—here in Michigan and around the country.
CEO Rob Fowler has talked about your importance in building PPA’s presence, even as a virtual firm. How do you see that working?
It starts with being at events, meeting new people, sharing ideas, and identifying new relationships. At PPA, we have had a long history of working with partners here in Lansing. However, we haven’t had as much of a presence in Metro Detroit, and we are looking to expand it. As someone who has lived there my entire life, I think there is an opportunity to introduce what we do at PPA to a wider audience around the state (in Southeast Michigan and everywhere in between).
We also want to boost our presence around the country by partnering with national-level organizations like us. We can partner with larger organizations or we can partner with similar organizations like us in other states.
What impact will your new role have on PPA’s education work?
The best part of our education policy area is the deep policy team that we have built. We have a number of internal staff and affiliated consultants with decades of experience in education. Increasingly, our staff and consultants have become key resources for organizations in Michigan and elsewhere to inform policy decisions.
Our staff is our strength at PPA, and our clients and partners recognize each of them as leaders. I am confident we will continue to grow our staff and provide experts in all of our policy areas.
You recently were a fellow at the Michigan Political Leadership Program. Many fellows eventually run for elective office. Is that in your plans?
That has been a long-term goal going back more than 15 years. Earlier in my career, I was a social studies teacher, and the concept of running for office is intriguing to someone like me. Certainly, we have seen an influx of educators in politics here in Michigan over the last four or five years; however, policy is my passion.
What I like about my role at PPA is that we get to play a role in policymaking. I really enjoy helping to set policy, not necessarily the politics of it. We get to work with all of our partners who are setting agendas and moving policy issues forward. We get to say what the research says about those policies, as opposed to getting into the political fights.
Part of what I took away from the Political Leadership Program was a spirit of learning to work collaboratively, working with people who may not share your personal values. My role at PPA is to find common ground across all of our strategic partners and figure out where we can bring people together to come up with collaborative, action-focused decisions that are about making people’s lives better, making communities stronger, and helping organizations strengthen themselves.
What is the best part of your job?
What makes my work most enjoyable is getting to work with our clients. We get to choose who we work with, and we tend to choose clients that are attempting to make a difference in their communities and for people across Michigan.
We are really lucky at PPA that we have great clients who are doing wonderful things. What I really do love is working with those clients to try and help them understand the nuances of how making changes in what they do can have positive and negative effects.